Generation Z is ‘the’ generation born after the birth of the web. Their passage from childhood to adolescence was linked to the possession of a smartphone and constant connection to the internet. This generation is known for being ​​“Digital-ites.”

How can companies attract  generation Z talents? and how to retain them? Francesco Paoletti, Associate Professor of Organisation and Human Resource Management at the Department of Business & Law of the University of Milan Bicocca, shares his insights on this challenge many companies are facing with Gen Z employees.

What are the 4 characteristics of generation Z that set them apart from others?

It is frequently said that “zoomers” are “digital natives”. This is a very relevant feature, but we shouldn’t forget others as important.

First, they are also more highly educated, and perhaps this explains why they have been found to be the most achievement-oriented of the generations.

Second, thanks to low-cost travels, they grew up taking frequent leisure trips abroad: this means they are more cosmopolite and mobile.

Third, they experienced greater economic well-being and dedicated resources to personal passions and interests: sport, fitness, dance, horse-riding, arts, gaming… you can go on listing. These passions are very diversified, but usually every zoomer has at least one which s/he is not willing to give up for working.

Fourth, they have a feeling of fluidity of our society: they have seen their parents face organizational restructurings and being forced out from companies that had promised at will employment; they don’t believe in  long-term working commitment and rather trust their ability to easily find new job opportunities. Indeed, according to research, this generation is more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, which means on average is less stable compared to the previous ones.

However, I feel we shouldn’t look at these features as positive or negative, but rather think about the patterns of behaviour they are bringing in the workplaces. For example, on one hand lower stability leads to easiness in taking extreme decisions (such as resigning for being dissatisfied with the job even before finding a new one), on the other it means being change-seekers. The first thing is a problem for companies, the second could be an opportunity.

What is it that this generation is looking for in their professional career?

One point that researchers agree on is that Z-gen leading demand is work-life balance. This doesn’t mean they are not willing to engage in their jobs, it means they are willing to do it, if they can spare enough time and energy for other needs in their personal life, often related to the passions I was speaking about. In other words, they are not going to sacrifice everything they care about for a job that they expect in any case to change 10 or even more times in their work life. Their second demand is for development: they want it, and want it now. They do not see growth necessarily in terms of promotions: in their perception it is rather a series of non-linear and lateral moves that avoid staying steady for too long. A third demand is for a clear understanding of organizational culture and expectations: given their achievement orientation, they want to see what it takes to be successful in their work context.

From what skills can a company benefit by hiring Generation Z?

As “digital natives” the zoomers certainly have a more profound and spontaneous understanding of digital transformation opportunities. Thus, they should be able to better leverage new technologies to bring innovations in products and business, as well as in internal organizational processes. Another skill they have much better developed compared to previous generations is a diversity mindset: traveling and social media have given them an unprecedented chance to connect to others from different cultures, backgrounds and circumstances. These competences combined are certainly of crucial importance for organizations that want to compete on a global scale.

What actions can companies obtain to attract generation Z to their company?

To attract this new generation companies first should provide flexible and empowering work environments that can satisfy their demands for work-life balance and professional growth. During the hiring process, a special attention should be devoted to emphasizing these features through realistic job previews. We should be aware that talented candidates nowadays take advantage of online selection by easily getting in touch with more potential employers than in the past, and their choice ultimately is being affected by the emotions and perceptions on the organizational context that they experience in these encounters as well as by the more rational criteria (compensation, employer branding and job stability) that were paying off in the last years.

What actions can companies obtain to retain generation Z?

In my view, it is unlikely that you will actually be able to retain Z gen people: they have that intrinsic desire to constantly seek out new experiences of self-actualization mixed up with a poor sense of organizational loyalty that makes them easily think about changing and relocating. Surveys show that on average they expect to stay in a company for 3 to 5 years maximum, and one third of them even less.

That said, I think companies might certainly look for ways to delay the exits. Companies should pay attention to onboarding practices since as many new hires leave within the first six months. The quality of the working environment and continuous developmental opportunities could make the difference in the following months.

The uncertainty and frustration of the pandemic have evoked deep reflections. At work, this translates into higher expectations than in the past and a “demand for meaning”. We have entered the YOLO economy, or ‘You only live once’. From your observatory, how is Generation Z behaving regarding this point?:

New generations are certainly the most sensitive to the YOLO sentiment, and the pandemic has raised this sensitiveness. That apparently happened also for other generations, leading to the so-called “great resignation” phnomenon. Z-Gens are young, mobile, multicultural, multilingual, and highly educated: they do not fear quitting or refusing a job if they feel that what is required makes no sense for their future self-fulfilment and growth. Consequently, the issue of making job demands meaningful should be a central concern for every organizational leader.

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